creativity exercise: 4 tips for more dramatic environmental portraits

Picking up your camera, shooting, and challenging yourself is the best way to improve your photography.  The Creativity Exercises within the Clickin Moms photography forum are a great source for finding new ways to challenge yourself.  On the first Monday of every month the wonderful Sarah Wilkerson posts a new tutorial and challenges our members to shoot with the exercise in mind.  While the exercises are ongoing, at the end of each month we choose a few images as the ‘Editors’ Choice’ and share them here with you on the blog.  How fun is that?!  Today we are sharing March’s exercise with you below!

creativity exercise |4 tips for more dramatic environmental portraits

creativity exercise: 4 tips for more dramatic environmental portraits photo
*image by Megan Dill

This month, we’ll focus on photographing the immensity of the world around us. Think about emphasizing the height, breadth, or depth of the environment and the elements therein. In many cases, this means shooting landscapes, cityscapes, or other wide angle approaches to nature or architecture.

Let’s take big world shooting a step further. Once you identify the scope of the environment you’ll be shooting, find a way to enhance the enormity of that environment by incorporating a person in the shot. Doing so accomplishes a few things: 1) it provides an identifiable sense of scale within the frame; and 2) it adds an emotionally familiar, psychologically relevant element.

Because we are emphasizing the magnitude of environment, the human figure will almost certainly appear quite diminutive within the frame. With conventional wisdom often advising photographers to “get closer,” doing just the opposite is part of what makes the tiny figure relative to the big world have such impact. At the same time, however, because of the relative smallness of the human subject, it can be more difficult to make the subject stand out. Here are a few ways to aid in ensuring the figure doesn’t become lost:

1) Utilize Color: A person in highly saturated clothing against a neutral or low-saturation background will powerfully draw the eye. For even more impact, think about the dominant color of the background, and – if possible – select or place a figure that is wearing a contrasting color. For example, shoot a subject in red against the greenery of a massive forest; shoot a subject in orange against a sprawling blue ocean and sky; or shoot a subject in purple against the sweeping, warm golden sands of a desert.

2) Utilize Negative Space: Particularly when you are shooting a vast landscape or other very open environment, making a single human subject the only interruption to the simplicity of the scene can be very effective. Try placing the person at the left edge of the frame to suggest an impending journey across the frame and open environment, or try placing the person at the right edge to allow the eye to carry across the frame and arrive at the human subject as a stopping point.

3) Utilize Tonal Contrast: A bright subject amidst a world enveloped in shadows or darkness — or closed in by imposing buildings, trees, etc — can be like a tiny beacon to which the eye is drawn. Conversely, a dark subject against a brighter background – such as a silhouette against a bright sky – can be equally effective.

Or deliberately hide your subject! 

On the flipside, perhaps you’d prefer to use the human figure to create unexpected impact. Think about whether you can draw the viewer into a barren, abandoned, or isolated environment, then allow the visual discovery of a subtly hidden subject to be a surprise. This positively jarring viewing experience can have significant emotional force and memorability.

Let’s see what you’ve got! Remember, for the purposes of this exercise, image will emphasize the magnitude of the environment and/or elements therein by including a human figure and framing so that the figure appears very small within the frame relative to the surrounding environment.

editors’ choice!

creativity exercise: 4 tips for more dramatic environmental portraits photo

Congratulations to the ladies below whose photographs were selected as this month’s Editors’ Choices!

Catherine Rodriguez ‘clickitycat’:

creativity exercise: 4 tips for more dramatic environmental portraits photo

Holly Thompson ‘HollyAnissa’:

creativity exercise: 4 tips for more dramatic environmental portraits photo

Erin Wagnild ‘erinbeth’:

creativity exercise: 4 tips for more dramatic environmental portraits photo

Lisa Nicole ‘lisa_nicole’:

creativity exercise: 4 tips for more dramatic environmental portraits photo

Clare ‘mamamoo’:

creativity exercise: 4 tips for more dramatic environmental portraits photo

Meredith Novario ‘mereditz’:

creativity exercise: 4 tips for more dramatic environmental portraits photo

Justine Knight ‘justinek’:

creativity exercise: 4 tips for more dramatic environmental portraits photo

Mickie DeVries ‘mickiedev’:

creativity exercise: 4 tips for more dramatic environmental portraits photo

Kat Gotschall ‘katgotschall’:

creativity exercise: 4 tips for more dramatic environmental portraits photo

Thank you to everyone who participated in the exercise!  We love seeing all the beautiful imagery!

Do you want to participate in the next Creativity Exercise?  Visit the forum here where Sarah has challenged us with the theme “High ISO Color Photography“.  Don’t have a membership to Clickin Moms yet?  Head on over here to sign up!  You can still participate in this ‘Big World’ challenge by either visiting the forum here or sharing with us in the comments below.  We’d love to see your work!

Sign up for a 30 day FREE trial membership!

creativity exercise: 4 tips for more dramatic environmental portraits photo

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24 Responses to “creativity exercise: 4 tips for more dramatic environmental portraits”

  1. Apr 08 2013 at 11:58 am #

    I absolutely LOVED this challenge! Thank you Satah for pushing us like you do, and congrats to all these talented ladies— incredible submissions!!!!!

  2. Apr 08 2013 at 11:58 am #

    These are gorgeous! Love the image with the kite! So fun :)

  3. Jennifer B
    Apr 08 2013 at 12:05 pm #

    Lovely images!

  4. Apr 08 2013 at 12:11 pm #

    such fantastic images!!!

  5. Apr 08 2013 at 12:17 pm #

    Oh, I am such a sucker for negative space. These are all fabulous! <3

  6. Apr 08 2013 at 1:51 pm #

    I love these challenges. Thanks for choosing my image amongst these amazing images! :)

  7. Apr 08 2013 at 2:00 pm #

    great job ladies! such beautiful images!

  8. Clare Telford
    Apr 08 2013 at 2:43 pm #

    I absolutely loved this challenge too, thank you Sarah. I am shocked that my image was selected, it is the first time I have submitted to a monthly challenge.

  9. Apr 08 2013 at 3:13 pm #

    All such beautiful images!!!

  10. Apr 08 2013 at 6:38 pm #

    So many gorgeous images! I am honored to be included here, thank you!

  11. Apr 08 2013 at 6:47 pm #

    beautiful images ladies!! Congratulations!

  12. Apr 08 2013 at 7:38 pm #

    Lots of my favourites here! What a fun challenge.

  13. Apr 08 2013 at 10:31 pm #


  14. kendra
    Apr 08 2013 at 10:35 pm #

    These are all amazing! What a great exercise!

  15. Pam
    Apr 08 2013 at 10:48 pm #

    incredible images!

  16. Julie Kiernan
    Apr 08 2013 at 11:06 pm #

    Lovely work, Ladies! I love negative space as well.

  17. Jessica
    Apr 09 2013 at 1:39 pm #

    Congrats everyone! Every image here is amazing!

  18. Apr 09 2013 at 3:53 pm #

    ooooo these are my favorite!

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